May brings flocks

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, 
Skipping by their fleecy damns. 

Well, nothing so pastoral as lambs cavorting around the ewes in the May image from the Limbourg brothers’ Très Riches Heures. It’s the Duke with his lords and ladies who are cavorting, their gorgeous gowns and cloaks competing with the gilded reins and bridles draped across their horses. It’s the colors that make these images so “rich”. I particularly love the fern-green of the ladies’ gowns.

But on to the main part of this post, my comments on the three books that include chapters set in May. For Peter Mayle, May begins with a short bicycle ride that he and his wife expect will be easy — after all, other cyclists (wearing spandex, which should have been a clue) whipped up and down the tiny hills of Provence all day long. The ride starts well, the two of them wheeling easily along the quiet roads, but 5 miles later, after making the climb to Bonnieux, they stagger into a café and drink beer “in the comfort of chairs designed for human bottoms”. They have still another few miles to reach their goal, and then, of course, the ride home.

Mayle usually took his house guests to the Sunday markets, where “Faded sepia postcards and old linen smocks were jumbled up with fistfuls of cutlery, chipped enamel signs advertising purgatives and pomade for unruly mustaches, fire irons and chamber pots. Art Deco brooches and café ashtrays, yellowing books of poetry and the inevitable Louis Quatorze chair, perfect except for a missing leg.” And so on. Then they would drive another 30-60 minutes for lunch. He writes that because the French love and respect good food, even an obscure little restaurant in a tiny village will have its devoted customers. He found one whose owner/chef was happy exactly where he was and hoped to still be there in 25 years. Mayle writes that he and his wife “hoped we would still be in a fit state to totter up and enjoy it.” (I checked against the publication date, and 25 years later would have been 2016; Mayle died in Provence in 2018, so I like to think that he did.)

Cutting and carting wood, Dorothy Hartley (1979)

May at Glady Taber’s home in rural Connecticut is for starting the garden, when she begins to wonder if they’ve over-committed themselves with their seed purchases. “Now it is planting time,” she writes, “and all the packets of seeds that seemed so small in February take on huge proportions.” It’s a thin line between not enough and whoa, there, too many! Anyone who gardens, or with neighbors who garden, understands the challenge. What do you do with all the tomatoes, squash, and beans? There’s only so much preserving a person can manage.

Yet Taber, who quotes Edna St. Vincent Millay (“I am waylaid by beauty”), can’t resist the glories of this month. “After a thunderstorm, it is an opalescent world.” I’ll look for this pearly effect on leaves and grass and sky the next time it rains.

Finally, in her May chapter on medieval life in England, Dorothy Hartley tells us all about sheep, including sheep dogs, shepherds and their crooks, and musical pipes. First she explains that “A flock is just a lot of sheep; a herd is a lot of sheep of the same breed; a hirsel is much larger, and more mixed, than a herd and is sometimes an entire breeding settlement.” That last phrase explains why it was still, at the time of Hartley’s writing (1979), illegal to sell off a hill’s entire hirsel. Sheep don’t wander aimlessly; they know where and when to find feed, shade, water, and protection from inclement weather. Without old sheep to show them the pathways, new arrivals would starve or die of exposure, because sheep are not adventurous.

No more highlights for this month. Get out and enjoy whatever weather comes your way, and keep safe! See you in June.

Wikipedia says the spork was patented in the US in 1874, but could this illustration be evidence of medieval sporks? Because Hartley doesn’t acknowledge any illustrator, I assume the drawings are her own, what she is drawing from, whether a real object or some other illustration, is usually not provided.

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
This entry was posted in History, Memoir, Reading the Year and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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